Proof That Bike-Share Generates More Foot Traffic Than Free Parking

Divvy user Richard Hurh at the Smoke Daddy docking station. Photo: John Greenfield

[This article also appeared in “Checkerboard City,” John’s column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

As I’ve written, the 32nd Ward’s Scott Waguespack is a good guy, and he’s one of Chicago’s best aldermen. A key independent voice and reformer, he’s sort of the Eliot Ness of City Council. He made headlines for leading the opposition to Richard M. Daley’s much-hated parking-meter contract, as well as Rahm Emanuel’s fishy reboot of the deal. Waguespack is generally a strong supporter of sustainable transportation, and he bike commutes regularly—he’s been doored or struck by cars on multiple occasions.

It’s a bummer when a politician you respect is on the wrong side of an issue you care about. So I was distressed to read quotes from the alderman that seemed critical of Chicago Department of Transportation initiatives that convert car parking spaces to productive uses like Divvy bike-share stations, on-street bike racks and “People Spots” seating areas. “Bike shares, People Spots … what will that do to businesses?” he asked at a community event this spring.

Alderman Scott Waguespack.

In early July Waguespack voiced concern over a proposal to swap car spaces for a new People Spot in front of Dimo’s Pizza, 1615 North Damen in Bucktown. “Loss of parking is huge. Everyone wants more. And this removes two [spaces],” he told DNAinfo. These comments suggested that the alderman hadn’t grasped the concept that it’s far more important to bring customers to a retail strip than it is to bring automobiles.

I recently talked to Waguespack’s chief of staff, Paul Sajovec, who clarified the alderman’s position on parking-space conversions. “With Divvy stations, our goal in working with CDOT was to have a maximum number of stations in the ward with a minimum amount of parking spaces removed,” Sajovec said. The ward was generally able to work with the transportation department to find station locations that didn’t require parking conversions.

It’s worth noting that Waguespack’s district is home to Chicago’s first People Spot, next to Heritage Bicycles, 2959 North Lincoln in Lakeview. Sajovec said the Bucktown People Spot is probably going to be approved as well, and the alderman is currently OK with trading car spots for seating areas, as long as it doesn’t require exporting metered spaces to other neighborhoods.

Recently at a council meeting, the alderman rightly blasted the mayor for spending $55 million in tax increment financing to help bankroll a new DePaul basketball stadium while laying off some 3,000 Chicago Public School staffers due to budget shortfalls. However, I was annoyed that the alderman also mentioned Divvy as a dubious use of TIF dollars.

Riding Divvies on Division Street. Photo: John Greenfield

First of all, the TIF money spent on the bike-share system, a useful transportation program, mostly bankrolled by federal grants, which will serve a huge swath of the city, will be less than $2 million, a small fraction of the money squandered on the basketball boondoggle. Secondly, it’s disingenuous of Waguespack to request a maximum number of Divvy stations in his ward and then kvetch about the funding.

I vented to a CDOT staff member about the alderman’s recent Divvy dig, as well as his previous gripes about parking conversions. The staffer mentioned that the station in front of Wicker Park’s Smoke Daddy barbecue joint, 1804 West Division in the 32nd Ward, displaced two car spots, and it’s now getting used an average of sixty times a day by bike-share customers.

When I tweeted this factoid to Waguespack, he was unimpressed. He responded that giving away public space is an issue that aldermen and the city need to take seriously, which is why he’s cautious about parking conversions. That’s true, I replied, but while the conventional wisdom says that using the public right-of-way to warehouse private automobiles is the best way to bring shoppers to a retail district, often that’s not the case. The alderman responded by daring me to prove the Smoke Daddy Divvy station is more useful than the two car parking spaces it replaced.

Challenge accepted. Last Wednesday I hung out in front of the rib shack for two hours during the evening rush and talked to folks who were checking out and docking the cycles. The entire 1800 block of Division is unmetered, so installing the station didn’t require creating new metered spaces elsewhere. During the stakeout, I also kept a close eye on the two car spaces just west of the station to see how many customers they were bringing to the strip. When I started my vigil at 4:30pm, a black Volvo station wagon and a turquoise Jeep Wrangler occupied the spots.

I found that every ten minutes or so a customer would check out or return a Divvy. Kevin Brouillette, a college student who lives downtown, was record shopping in the neighborhood when he spontaneously decided to take a bike for a spin. “It’s a very cool program,” he said. “It’s really efficient because you can just grab a bike and go.”

Richard Hurh, who works for LinkedIn, rode Divvy home from downtown to a station by his apartment at Beach and Wood, changed clothes, grabbed another bike and pedaled to the Smoke Daddy. From there he was going to stroll a few blocks to watch a soccer match at the Small Bar. “I could have walked the whole way from my house but it was nice and convenient to take a Divvy,” he said.

During the two hours 12 Divvy riders visited the station, these cars stayed put. Photo: John Greenfield

Rob Bloom, a Humboldt Park resident who works for an organic mushroom farm, had been sightseeing by Divvy with his friend Amanda Burton, a social worker visiting from Tucson. “We’ve been using it to go different places instead of walking, covering a little more ground, just for fun,” he said.

As I buttonholed the bike-share customers, some interesting patterns emerged. The majority of them had ridden home from work in the Loop. Most of the users worked in technology or finance. All but Burton were male.

In total, twelve different people used the Smoke Daddy Divvy station during the two hours I held court. Nine of the customers were docking bikes and three were checking them out. True, it was rush hour on a gorgeous day with ideal conditions for cycling. On the other hand, the Smoke Daddy station is probably even busier on a Saturday or Sunday, when more folks are using the bikes for running errands and pedaling to restaurants and bars on the Division Street drag. CDOT stats show that bike-share trips spike on weekends.

In contrast to the high Divvy turnover, two hours later the parking spaces were still occupied by the same Volvo and Jeep. While most of the bike-share customers weren’t necessarily spending money on Division, and metered blocks do have more car parking turnover, it’s safe to say the two spots used for this busy station were more productive than the two inert parking spaces. So, Scott, what do you think is a better use of public space now—accommodating a couple of cars or a dozen Divvy riders?

  • How does Waguespack attempt to state that “giving away public space is an issue that aldermen and the city need to take seriously” when it’s not giving anything away, but simply shifting the purpose?

    The obvious fact here is the two stagnant parking spaces were actually being given away when Divvy isn’t, it’s far more metered than those two spots are.

  • Anonymous

    To Mr. Waugespack:

    Please read my write ups about my Divvy use on the chainlink. I am not sure how much clearer it has to be how Divvy drives new business.
    This entry specifically talks about us visiting Division.
    This entry talks about extending the range of lunch options and spending money at a place that normally is too far away to walk during lunch.

  • Andrew

    Street space is for the city of Chicago and should be put to the best public use. Divvy is a great example of this use as is people spots. Parking for private automobiles is not a good use of the public space nor is it a right that most drivers seem to believe they deserve.

  • Correct, why is it assumed that it’s perfectly normal to let people store their 2,000-pound objects on the public right-of-way, but when we want to use that same road space for a public parklet or a Divvy station, that’s “giving away public space.”

  • Anonymous

    Another solid example is by Schuba’s (also in the 32nd). The Divvy station took 2 non-metered parking spaces. I live near there and most of the time, the turnover in those parking spaces is generally not quick. Similar to the Smoke Daddy location, it’s free spots that are within 1/4 mile of an L stop (most spaces closer to the Southport L station have zone restrictions). I often see commuters parking on Southport there. Meaning their cars are just sitting all day, then in the evening someone else’s car parks there all night. ie, 2 cars use a spot in 24 hours. There’s a lot than 4 people using that Divvy station

  • Nice. Schuba’s is a great location for a Divvy station.

  • Chicagio
  • CL

    Okay, it’s not that I don’t see your point — and I support giving space to Divvy stations — but the space isn’t given away for free. Chicago drivers pay a tax for keeping a car here (the city sticker fee) in addition to their state registration in Illinois.

    Arguably, those fees are too low, and a lot of free-riders are registered in Indiana and actually do park here for free — so maybe there should be higher fees plus more enforcement for tax dodgers.

    But the space where I park my car wasn’t just a free gift from Chicago. I paid what they asked me to pay to own a car in the city.

  • Interesting argument, but the annual Chicago city sticker fee is $135, $11.25 per month. Try finding a car-sized storage unit for that price.

  • CL

    The city sticker is only $85 for a small car. And like I said, I can certainly see the point that the fee is too low. But I don’t like when people say that we store our cars here for free, because it’s not true — there is a fee. Maybe the fee isn’t high enough, but I did pay something to keep my car in the city.

  • Joseph Musco

    I think you and Waguespack are talking past each other.

    He is talking about how much the paid spots cost to the City of Chicago under the terms of the parking meter deal. You are talking about how much bike parking is worth in terms of safety promotion and economic development. You aren’t using the same definition of “cost” or “benefit” so you keep misunderstanding one another.

    The issue is CDOT considers swapping paid parking spots for any of their projects to be cost free. This is a political position by CDOT because clearly the parking meter deal is highly controversial, involves control of the streets, and huge sums of money. Nobody else in Chicago things parking is free. The parking meter deal shapes the very configuration of projects that CDOT considers but they never admit it. Again, this is political. You saw it with the parking meter deal revision which increased revenue for Morgan Stanley/CPM and increased parking meter hours for Chicagoans. The spin? It was an improvement! CDOTs response to questions about the parking meter deal as it relates to DIVVY, bike lanes, and BRT is to go “la la la…we can’t hear you” and just assume zero costs (or tell a happy fiction) and swap the spots.

    Only swapping the spots is a choice that increases the cost of every future decision made involving parking for the duration of the parking meter contract! It’s Econ 101 that a reduction of supply drives up costs. That isn’t to say taking spots for DIVVY, bike lanes, or BRT isn’t worth the reduction of free parking spots. It’s just that CDOT should make an honest argument about the opportunity costs of consuming a paid parking spot for their projects and argue accordingly.

  • Stacy Trudeau

    Where is the back up for your argument? I have never seen CDOT ignore the parking issue, it’s the bane of their existence and they are consistently open about the challenges. They always have to fund offset parking for their projects including people spots or they are not allowed to move forward. Show me some evidence Joe?

  • Joseph Musco

    On DIVVY and paid parking: “Kubly said that in cases when bike stations take up metered spaces, the city needs to find alternative spots for metered spaces run by LAZ, the private firm that manages paid street parking in Chicago.

    “The swap out is 1 for 1, ” Kubly said, adding that each Divvy station takes up “about two parking spaces.” DNAchicago, 8/2/13

    Here’s Gabe Klein on paid parking: The Atlantic: “Would you have to stay in the job in Chicago 75 years if you wanted to play with any of these kinds of parking ideas there? Are you going to be able to touch that at all?

    Gabe Klein: I don’t know. I haven’t read the whole contract, I don’t interface with the parking vendor too much, they really deal with the revenue office. I’d like to think that they’re going to want to innovate and work with us, but I don’t know that. When you don’t control anything,it’s hard to put a lot of effort into that. As a business person, you look at where you can have the most impact and get the most return on an investment. And with the parking situation there, it’s probably not the best use of my time, but I’d like to make some inroads. The Atlantic Cities, 1/26/12

    On Bike Lanes and parking – The recent Broadway bike lane project talked about removing 4 parking spots. (the report did not specify paid or free spots) DNAChicago, 8/1/13

    On BRT and parking – GridChicago reported that the center running BRT along the entire Ashland corridor would eliminate 74 paid spots (figure 1/3 of that total for the initial corridor). See

    The parking meter deal may well be the bane of the existence of people working at CDOT. It’s hard to innovate when you don’t control your own streets. But I don’t care what they say about the parking meter deal in their wonky planning discussions. I care about what they say to the public about the true costs of the deal in their public comments. And in their public comments they say nothing or imply a transaction cost of zero when swapping paid spots for free spots.

    The shift is not 1-to-1 in parking spots as Scott Kubly implies but 1-to-1 in revenue. CPM determines revenue, not CDOT – hence the term “true ups”. CDOT dances to the tune CPM plays on revenue, not the other way around. CPM has veto power and every change to the deal works in their financial favor. So if you take two spots in a busy spot on Damen, you have to replace them with enough REVENUE to make up for the difference, not 2 spots anywhere. You can’t just find 2 spots on some quiet back street in the ward and throw up a meter. Those free spots are finite and have a universe of future possible uses. Future day care centers will require a loading zone, future manufacturing employers will require a loading zone – they can’t create space from thin air.

    So five years from now when some day care center is in a fight with bicycling advocates about deleting a DIVVY station on Damen in order to get a loading zone for their kids, CDOT’s current leadership will be gone and the alderman will have to figure things out. That’s two parties that should not be fighting but will because of what CDOT says and does today.

  • Anonymous

    Btw Chicago collected $115 million in vehicle sticker revenue, $39 million in other vehicle-related fees (mainly towing), $123 million in parking garage taxes, $50 million from city gasoline taxes and another $64 million from a share of state gasoline taxes in 2012. That’s about 13% of total city revenues that are tied directly to auto ownership/usage.

  • Sorry, I was looking at mid-size cars:

    OK, $7.08 a month is an even better deal!

  • CL

    Yes — the cost per individual might not make up for the total cost to society of each car, but we’re certainly not free riders using public roads and public space for nothing.* Owning a car here is expensive — much more expensive than where I used to live.

    * Except for people who register out of state because they think the taxes here are too high. Those people are free riders, and they suck.

  • Got any figures on what percent of the city budget is used for car-related expenses? Perhaps you could start with calculating how much it costs the city on average to deal with the aftermath of a traffic fatality.

  • CL

    Yeah it’s only $135 if you have a big car like an SUV. My four-door Honda civic was $85.

  • Check out our full discussion on Twitter. I clarified that we were talking about the spots on Division Street, which are unmetered.

  • Anonymous

    It’s hard to break out on the expense side what’s car related. Some of it is easy, such as the employees who work in the department that handles stickers and such ($112 million). There are other things like salt ($11 million) that are pretty direct. But other departments like streets and sanitation (~$300 million) are trickier because a lot of it has little to do with cars. The financial cost of dealing with a traffic fatality is immaterial.

  • Anonymous

    This is just econ 101. Owning a car in a big city should be expensive. Space in big cities comes at a premium, whether it’s about real estate or cars. There is a fixed amount of land (the old joke is to invest in land because they aint making any more of it) and a growing number of people cramming into it. So it should be more expensive, perhaps a lot more expensive, than owning a car in someplace like Paducah, Kentucky.

    I live in Waguespack’s ward, and I hope he takes this response seriously and reconsiders how he talks about the issue.

  • Thanks! Nice post on riding Divvy home from work on LGRAB:

  • Anonymous

    Divvy stations belong on the sidewalks, period.
    Plus, two-hours isn’t really a long enough time period to gather your facts.
    Try a week.

    Plus, Chicago isn’t Portland and cyclists (like me) need to LOWER their expectations and stop being so demanding of our infrastructure- Chicago was built for cars.

    And can we get some cyclist rules enforcement around here?

  • “Chicago was built for cars”? “Gather your facts”: Chicago was founded decades before cars became widespread, so that’s just not possible.

  • Police time is very expensive, and it’s not immaterial. Neither are the resources that the city expends on administering the departments that service cars. Together, those costs run up into the billions of dollars annually.

  • Anonymous

    Nope. As I noted, the departments that administer that stuff cost about $112 million. Saying that public safety (~$1.8 billion, or about 60% of all expenses) is somehow a function of cars is also false. Public safety is a function of population, not automobiles.

    Btw, I forgot that the red light cameras generate about $100 million in revenue.

  • But police spend a lot of time on stolen cars, car crashes, and enforcing driving laws, which are proportional to the amount of driving. HR and other administrative overhead costs for CDOT, etc. are also not immaterial, and are indirectly related to cars. I wrote a pretty considerable paper about this once (i.e., my BA thesis for the U of C), going through the city budget line by line. It’s at home, though, and I’m at work.

  • CL

    Hey, drivers are the ones asking for the police to direct enforcement efforts to reckless cyclists instead. :)

  • Step back for a moment and think about how much money and resources have been provided to infrastructure that supports motorized vehicles. Then consider the fact that steps of this nature is part of the reeling in process that balances out infrastructure for all users.

  • I paid $75 for my annual membership to Divvy, where is your argument in favor of my “tax”?

  • Meanwhile traffic enforcement is minimal to begin with.

  • Items like towing and red light camera tickets should not be used as sources of revenue from automobiles, it’s a punishment source because of the action of the driver. What if all drivers continued to drive but followed every law of the road, those fines would disappear.

  • CL

    I paid a lot more than that for my car. The fact that bikes (or bike share memberships) cost money isn’t really relevant.

  • Eric McClure

    If Scott Waguespack is truly concerned that “giving away public space is an issue that aldermen and the city need to take seriously,” then he ought to really be going after non-metered parking spaces. Using street space for a Divvy station is far more productive, and will generate far more economic benefit, than using that same space for private car storage. Here’s betting the Volvo and Jeep are still there.

  • Anne A

    As someone who knows a number of police officers and hears about how much police time really goes into handling crashes, I find it mind boggling how much a crash can really cost the city. It can take several hours of multiple officers’ time on scene and afterwards to investigate the scene, take statements, do analysis, etc. Then, depending on how complicated the crash and how many parties were involved, 2 or more officers may be called to court multiple times to testify. (I have heard of cases requiring as many as 10-12 court appearances over a period of months.) Add more police time to the total if there’s a civil lawsuit as a result of the crash.

    Drunk driving incidents have a lot of paperwork and tend to take a long time to process. Is it worth getting drunk drivers off the street? Sure, but there is an unseen cost in terms of police resources to make it happen.

    Bedhead may argue that the police are there regardless of how many cars and crashes there are. However, tying up one or more squad cars for hours (sometimes for an entire shift) to process a crash makes those officers unavailable to handle other incidents. Violent incidents get top priority (domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, etc. ).

    If you get doored, cut off in traffic or otherwise injured by a motor vehicle and it’s not a major crash, you might be out of luck in terms of getting an officer to come to the scene if it’s a busy night. There aren’t always officers to go around to help everyone who needs them. That’s the unfortunate reality.

    If no one is available to come out, making a report at a police station afterwards is better than no report at all.

  • That’s your fault, not mine.


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